I had planned to ask a neighbour to pose for me clothed – she did a great job for me during Drawing 1. The timing didn’t work out though, and I started to think about drawing myself; there seemed to be distinct advantages – I was always available; would pose as long as I needed; didn’t have to pay myself; didn’t have to worrying about the need to flatter; and I was the only person I knew who would pose nude for me.
I could find very few precedents of self portraits of the nude figure by female artists, and none before 20c. Those I did find were quite inspiring:- (Addendum – many weeks later I found nude self portraits by Louise Courtnell and Anna Dougherty in my 500 Portraits book of the BP Portrait Award. I’ve also looked at the powerful self portraits of Jenny Saville since writing this log)
As far as I could establish Paula Modersohn Becker was the first. For this 1906 painting she must have posed and then drawn and painted from memory (she isn’t shown in the act of painting), something I found extraordinarily difficult when I tried it, and maybe should make a point of practising. In this work, the figure has been painted onto a fairly flat mid tone background – the delicate outlines of the figure do seem to almost float, giving a soft and romantic look. The focal point is the facial expression because it’s well defined in terms of colour, line and contrast.
In her 80s Alice Dean painted a very frank depiction of her own figure sitting in a striped chair.
“Gesture, posture, assured draftsmanship, and an eye for color are at the heart of her interpretive skills.” “Her full-length form seated before the easel recalls the centuries-old tradition of artists painting themselves. At the same time, her self-portrait ignores convention by virtue of the fact that Neel is nude. Her nakedness serves as a metaphor for her candor. The angle of the small sofa on which she sits and her upraised foot suggest some tension in the moment, despite the artist’s calm facial demeanor. Neel’s unflinching realism captures a body that does not conform to notions of feminine beauty—her breasts sag, her thighs are ample, and her distended stomach has lost its tone. Her self does not escape the same clinical analysis that she gave to others. Without apology, she presents herself as a woman who takes pride in her role as an artist, and she declares that talent and character, not transient beauty, make one interesting.” http://moorewomenartists.org/alice-neels-women/
In this painting, bold lines describing shape and volume have been retained. The figure and other large areas have been painted in fairly simple blocked areas of intense colour. Simple outlines and shapes allow the linear aspect to dominate. The background context has hardly been realised. The focal point is the face again, my eye is continually drawn back to that startling red complexion and pursed lips.
The theme was taken up by the contemporary artist Chantal Joffe, who nods to Alice Neel in her title “Self portrait sitting on a striped chaise long). The painting is “a direct reference to Neel’s influence in its nudity, composition and evocative expression”. http://www.artcritical.com/2012/05/31/chantal-joffe/.
The cast shadows within and under the face and on the right arm are quite boldly coloured. In Joffe’s portray we are really concentrating on the contours of her figure, and it’s weight revealed by the contours of the striped cushion.
The main disadvantage I found was the distinct lack of available poses I could hold comfortably and still see while drawing, especially juggling with two mirrors. The first pose was the most comfortable and I took my time measuring and checking proportions, lines and shapes over and over again.
With a little more articulation of the background a greater sense of the figure in space could be achieved. Somehow I look to be a bit of a giant – daddy bear sitting in goldilocks’ studio!
The next pose was most uncomfortable to maintain whilst drawing, and my view of the figure via two mirrors a little lacking in detail. I gave up quite quickly – can’t imagine doing a complete painting in this position! But I quite like the look of the pose, and will see if I can take a selfie using a timer, to paint from.
My third drawing went back to the first pose, viewed in the mirror from a different angle.
Ive indicated more context, an archway framing the figure, a flue seen through the archway on the far wall; a picture hanging on the nearer wall and a rug on the floor in front of the figure. The figure is very much influenced by Alice Neel. I like how the position of my legs is repeated in the legs of the tripod and the angles made by the drawing tools I’m holding. There’s tension in the way my foot is angled and the tipping back of the chair. This is my winner – to be taken forward to the next exercise.